Families come in many different shapes and sizes. I have known this for a long time, but considered it even more thoroughly this weekend as I am preparing to move. My family of origin lives on the other side of the country and having lived in Vancouver for 12 years, I have found that I have had to create my own family here. This past weekend, my sister flew from Chicago to Vancouver for a mere three days to help me pack. Upon her arrival, worlds collided: my family of origin and the family I chose here. The same day my sister arrived, I received a call at four in the morning that my best friend's house was on fire and his children needed to come to be with me. Three adults and four children all arrived to spend the night with me, shaken, frightened and unsure what to do, we made up couches and beds, had cereal, and root beer. My sister and I packed, my best friend planned, how to cope with the damage to their home, where would be a safe place for them to stay?
My sister flew back to Chicago last night. After dropping her off at the airport, I went to Sunday dinner with my chosen family here, a weekly event that we have to connect, share food and be together. All of this change and turmoil, happy beginnings and tragic endings had me thinking about what makes a family healthy. I share this with you in hopes that you see your family in this, or maybe ways you could improve.
What are the characteristics of strong, healthy families?
Researchers have developed lists of qualities that characterize successful families. These are:
- encouragement of individuals
- expressing appreciation
- commitment to family
- religious/spiritual orientation
- social connectedness
- ability to adapt
- clear roles
- time together
The presence of effective communication patterns is one of the most frequently mentioned characteristics of strong families. Researchers characterize the communication patterns of strong families as clear, open, and frequent. Family members talk to each other often, and when they do, they are honest and open with each other (Stinnett and DeFrain, 1985; Lewis, 1979; Epstein, 1983; Olson, 1986).
The encouragement of individual members: Strong families cultivate a sense of belonging to a family unit, but also nurture the development of individual strengths and interests. Members enjoy the family framework, which provides structure but does not confine them.
Stinnett describes commitment to the family as follows: "Commitment goes in two directions. Each family member is valued; each is supported and sustained. At the same time they are committed to the family as a unit. They have a sense of being a team; they have a family identity and unity. When outside pressures (work, for example) threaten to remove family from its top priority, members of strong families take action and make sacrifices if necessary to preserve family well-being" (Stinnett, 1986).
Appreciation as an important characteristic of strong families. Related to this, W. Robert Beavers and others stated that a sense of "delight" with the child is important to his or her successful development. Similarly, Olson summed up that it is important, when studying a family, to emphasize the delight, liking, warmth, and humour that family members share, which are all aspects of this construct and which distinguish some families from others.
A religious or spiritual orientation is identified by many researchers as an important component of strong families.
A family's ability to adapt to stressful and potentially damaging events as well as to predictable life cycle changes, has also been identified as an important characteristic of strong families. Strong families are those with an ability to absorb stress and cope. The more rigid a family system, the more disturbed. Healthy families change; unhealthy families remain stuck.
Successful families are not isolated; they are connected to the wider society. A family's social connectedness can be measured in terms of the availability of external resources in the form of friends, family, and neighbours, as well as participation in community.
Many researchers identify clear role definition as an important characteristic of family functioning, and as essential for a family's ability to adapt to changing situations. With a clear, yet flexible structure in place, family members are aware of their responsibilities in and to the family. Consequently, in the face of crises and problems, members know their roles.
Successful families spend time together, and the shared time is high in both quality and quantity!
Have a safe and enjoyable weekend,